What Does the Bible Say About Demons?

Should Christians Be Afraid of Demons?

Demons in the Bible
Photo: Merri Cyr / Getty Images

Demons have been the subject of popular movies and novels, but are they real?  What does the Bible say about them?

According to Scripture, demons are fallen angels, banished from heaven with Satan because they rebelled against God:  

"Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads.  His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth." (Revelation 12:3-4, NIV).

These "stars" were fallen angels who followed Satan and became demons.  This passage implies that a third of the angels are evil, leaving two thirds of the angels still on God's side, to fight for good.

In the Bible, we see demons, sometimes called spirits, influencing people and even taking over their bodies.  Demon possession is limited to the New Testament, although demons are mentioned in the Old Testament: Leviticus 17:7 and 2 Chronicles 11:15.  Some translations call them "devils" or "goat idols."

During his three year public ministry, Jesus Christ cast out demons from many people.  Their demonic afflictions included being mute, deaf, blind, having convulsions, superhuman strength, and self-destructive behavior.  The common Jewish belief at the time was that all illness was caused by demon possession, but a key passage separates possession into its own class:

News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. (Matthew 4:24, NIV)

Jesus cast out demons with a word of authority, not a ritual.  Because Christ had supreme power, demons always obeyed his commands.  As fallen angels, demons knew Jesus' true identity as the Son of God before the rest of the world, and they were afraid of him.  Perhaps the most dramatic encounter Jesus had with demons was when he cast multiple unclean spirits out of a possessed man and the demons asked Jesus to let them inhabit a nearby herd of pigs:

He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. (Mark 5:13, NIV)

The disciples also cast out demons in Jesus' name (Luke 10:17, Acts 16:18), although sometimes they were unsuccessful (Mark 9:28-29, NIV).

Exorcism, the ritualized casting out of demons, is still conducted today by the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Anglican or Episcopal Church, Lutheran Church, and United Methodist Church.  Several evangelical churches conduct a Prayer of Deliverance service, which is not a specific ritual but may be said for people in whom demons have gained a foothold.

Points to Remember About Demons

Demons often disguise themselves, which is why God forbids participation in the occult, seances, Ouija boards, witchcraft, channeling, or the spirit world (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).

Satan and demons cannot possess a Christian (Romans 8:38-39). Believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16); however, unbelievers are not under the same divine protection.   

While Satan and demons cannot read a believer's mind, these ancient beings have been observing humans for thousands of years and are experts in the craft of temptation.

  They can influence people to sin.

The Apostle Paul was often attacked by Satan and his demons as he carried out his missionary work.  Paul used the metaphor of the Full Armor of God to instruct Christ followers in how to withstand demonic attacks.  In that lesson, the Bible, represented by the sword of the spirit, is our offensive weapon to cut down these unseen enemies.  
 
An invisible war of good vs. evil is going on all around us, but it's important to remember that Satan and his demons are a defeated enemy, conquered by Jesus Christ on Calvary.  The outcome of this conflict has already been decided.  At the end of time, Satan and his demonic followers will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire.

(Sources:  gotquestions.org, nytimes.com, reference.com, goarch.org, witness.lcms.org.)

Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.